Why eco-friendly or green laundry? What is the need to use natural alternatives for laundry when commercial detergents are so easily available in market?
The answer to these questions is simple. Commercial detergents contain toxic chemicals which are not bio-degradable, and all the run-off from the wash cycles ultimately ends up in the soil or in water bodies. When detergents are discharged into the water cycle, they can cause contamination of groundwater, proliferation of algae, and poisoning of aquatic animals. Below is an image of Darebin Creek river showing the detergent foam polluted river water.
Commercial detergents contain Cleaning agents like Quaternium-15 (which releases formaldehyde, a known carcinogen) and Diethanolamine (linked with skin and eye irritation and possibly liver problems).
Other ingredients include Sodium Sulphonate, Naptha, Pthalates, Phenols, bleach and dyes, and synthetic fragrances. One of the most commonly used ingredient in commercial detergents is the foaming agent, called as Sodium Laurel Sulphate (proven to be a skin irritant, which can strip the skin of its protective oils and moisture).
A natural alternative to using commercial detergent is to use Soapnuts. Soapnuts (Reetha in Hindi) are the fruit of the Sapindus Tree and are found in abundance throughout India. Incidentally, Sapindus belongs to the Litchee family of plants, and the Soapnut fruit bears some resemblance to the Litchee fruit in shape & texture. The word Sapindus comes from Latin, and means “Soap of India”. Below is a picture of a soapnut tree:
References to soapnuts are found in the Ayurvedic literature, and it has been widely used as a cleaning agent, and for hair care.
The shell of the Soapnut fruit contains ‘Saponins’, which act as a natural surfactant, and have the ability to remove oily substances and grime. Below is a picture of fresh soapnut berries:
(Image Ref: http://www.sbs.utexas.edu/)
We have been using Reetha for washing clothes for quite some time now, and have been very happy with the results.
You can put about 20 -25 whole, unpeeled Soapnuts in a small cloth bag and place them in the Washing Machine along with the clothes. If you can’t find a cloth bag, you can also use a sock, and put the soapnuts inside it, and tie a knot. If the nuts are very dry then it helps to soak the nut in water overnight. The water soaked in along with the nuts can be then used to wash the cloths.
Wash as usual with cold, warm or hot water. After washing, the bag is removed and left to dry. Clothes are also put out for drying the usual way. Check this link for detailed instructions of using them.
Small pieces or peels of Soapnut should never be put inside the washing machine directly. Since they are biodegradable, they tend to catch fungus if left in the machine. Always put them in a muslin or cotton reusable wash bag and remove the bag after washing and dry them by simply placing them on a plate or bowl in a open place.
One bag of 20 – 25 soap nuts can be used for 2 to 3 washes.
Cleaning properties of Soapnuts are as good as any other commercial detergent. Here are a few other benefits of using soapnuts for laundry:
- Soft on fabric with no harmful effects
- Economical and absolutely easy to use and no extra maintenance.
- Soft on skin as they are naturally hypoallergenic and odorless
- Great for people who have allergic reactions to detergents
- Saves soil and water from getting polluted with the runoff from detergent wash
- The soap shells are 100% biodegradable and environment friendly
- An indirect positive effect is that using soapnuts for more and more daily necessities promotes the plantation of trees, which improves green cover on the land. Also it has least packaging and production cost, which has a huge environmental impact.
Surprisingly, soapnuts have really caught on in the Western world for usage in green laundry. However, people in India are still to catch on to their benefits, even though soapnuts have been traditionally used in India for cleaning purposes, since ages.
Soapnut Shells can be found in many grocery stores easily, or can be ordered online.